How to Use Self Tapping Screws

How Do I Use Self Tapping Screws?

Arguably, the image of a self tapping fastener is one of the most archetypal images of a screw. Many will envision the definitive ‘screw’ as a countersunk screw, usually with a Phillips drive and a sharpened point. A quick Google search for the term ‘screws’ shows an overwhelming bias towards self tapping fasteners, despite the innumerable permutations available. Despite its apparent popularity, ‘How do I use a self-tapping screw?’ is still a very common question - some of the basics will be covered within this article.

It is often required, and generally recommended, to drill a pilot hole for self tapping screws.

What is The Difference Between Self Tapping and Self Drilling Screws?

Tapping is the act of creating a thread. Tapping is not the act of creating a hole. In soft materials, such as wood or plastic, there is some overlap in these processes, as a self tapping tip is usually sufficient to create the hole required. However, with metals or certain particularly hard woods, a pilot hole must be drilled before a thread can be tapped.

Selecting The Correct Drive Type

An important consideration in any self tapping application is to select the ideal drive type for the given situation and the tooling available. Common choices include slotted or Phillips drives - or the Pozi drive, which was specifically invented for self tapping applications. For more information see our article on the advantages of the Pozi drive. Deeper socket drives are also regularly used in high-torque applications.


When installing a self tapping screw, the screw must be properly aligned to ensure that it is driven into the target housing as the correct angle. This is particularly important if a self tapping screw is expected to cut its own hole, as there is no pilot hole to guide the fastener. Many methods exist for ensuring perpendicular holes, from improvised jigs to high-precision guidance tooling.

Hole Size

Many factors go into the selection of an ideal pilot hole, including some degree of preference in the amount of thread engagement required. Factors such as fastener material, housing material, hole depth, and even temperature must be considered. For these reasons, it is near impossible to guarantee a recommended pilot hole size for your specific application. As a rough guide, a pilot hole should be between the minor diameter and major diameter of the screw thread, but will always vary dependent on external factors. The table below gives several recommended hole sizes, but should be used as a guide only.

Self Tapping Thread GaugeSheet ThicknessPilot Hole Size*
No. 4 (2.9mm)0.45mm2.21mm
No. 6 (3.5mm)0.45mm2.70mm
No. 8 (4.2mm)0.71mm3.00mm
No. 10 (4.8mm)0.71mm3.51mm

*Figures given for stainless steel fasteners used in unhardened metals such as mild steel, brass, aluminium etc. Use as a guide only.

How to Use Self Tapping Screws with Wood

As mentioned above, when used with sufficiently soft materials, a self tapping screw can be used to create and tap its own hole. However, a pilot hole is often recommended, particularly in hardwoods, to prevent splitting, which is caused by stresses within the wood. Wood screws are designed with very coarse threads to reduce stresses within wooden housings.

How to Use Self Tapping Screws with Plastic

Certain types of self-tapping screw have been specially designed for use with plastics. While regular self tapping screws are suitable for use with most plastics, Plastite screws feature more pronounced, sharper threads, which increase resistance to pull-out and stripping within low-density plastics.

How to Use Self Tapping Screws with Metal

When used with metal, Self-tapping screws should always be installed into pre-drilled holes. Stainless steel screws are relatively soft when compared to hardened steel, and are generally recommended for use with softer metals, such as Aluminium.

About The Author:

Daniel is the lead content writer at AccuGroup, with a degree in History and a passion for all things mechanical.

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